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What are the notes to the financial statements?

The notes to the financial statements are a required, integral part of a company's external financial statements. They are necessary because not all relevant financial information can be communicated through the amounts shown (or not shown) on the face of the financial statements. Generally, the notes are the main method for complying with the full disclosure principle and are also referred to footnote disclosures.

The first note to the financial statements is usually a summary of the company's significant accounting policies for the use of estimates, revenue recognition, inventories, property and equipment, goodwill and other intangible assets, fair value measurement, discontinued operations, foreign currency translation, recently issued accounting pronouncements, and others.

The first note is followed by many additional notes that contain the details (including schedules of amounts) for items such as inventories, accrued liabilities, income taxes, employee benefit plans, leases, business segment information, fair value measurements, derivative instruments and hedging, stock options, commitments and contingencies, and more.

Each external financial statement should also include a reference (usually as a footer) which states that the accompanying notes are an integral part of the financial statements.